South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Published in The Daily Times on Nov. 10:

Though the Constitution recognises women’s rights, they are not given to women because of cultural and traditional, social, economic, legal, religious and political prohibitions.

Pakistan has almost forgotten the words of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who said: “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the house as prisoners.” Many Pakistani women are victims who face domestic violence and sexual assault, and have been denied their due social, economic, political, fundamental and financial rights. Moreover, it is a reality that women in Pakistan are always treated as second-class citizens because the state cannot make a clear distinction about whether it is secular or theocratic in nature. Charles Habib Malik, a great philosopher and diplomat, once said, “The fastest way to change society is to mobilise the women of the world.”

The light on the horizon for Pakistan is that, during the last 20 months, Pakistani women have brought home an Oscar, the Nobel Peace Prize and the Asian Gold in cricket. These are great achievements by talented Pakistani women. There is no doubt that women can play a significant role in the development of any society. The case is significantly different in Pakistan as Pakistani society is based on patriarchy and feudal/tribal culture so that women are not able to achieve their goals because the men at home do not allow them to go out. There is no doubt that Pakistan is a male dominated society in which women are considered unequal to and even below men.

The question remains: why is our thinking, of women not being equal to men, so unchanging? Though the Constitution recognises women’s rights, they are not given to women because of cultural, traditional, social, economic, legal, religious and political prohibitions. In Article 25(1) of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, it is stated: “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of the law.” Article 25(2) states: “There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone.” On the other hand, the state of Pakistan does not deliver to its female citizens when it comes to equal rights. 

Ghulam Sughra Solangi is a renowned trailblazer for women’s rights and has spent most of her life struggling for the rights of marginalised communities in rural Sindh. This woman from quite literally nowhere has fought against all sorts of injustices and inhumane activities to obtain her God-given rights. She became the first female Pakistani Ashoka Fellow in 1999 and received the International Woman of Courage Award from the US Secretary of State in 2011. 

Her dreams of seeking an education had been destroyed on the back of local tradition and so she was married at the age of 12. Her husband abandoned her when she was just 20. When she expressed a desire to learn, she was discouraged by her brothers and family. However, she told herself and her family that she wanted to be independent and receive an education. In 1989, she became a teacher at the girls’ primary school in village Khairpur, but her thirst for education was much bigger than that. At the age of 31, without any formal schooling, she successfully completed a Bachelors of Arts in Education. From there on, Sughra began working with the Marvi Rural Development Organisation for the welfare and awakening of rural women.

I personally believe women are not an asset nor are they mere human beings: they are the pride of society. From the raising of children to educating our youth, they carry the largest burden of helping us in comprehending how important life is and why it should be preserved for the greater good of mankind. In Pakistan we do not need to look further than our own households and to our sociological development; women are the pillars upon whom we depend for our emotional and spiritual support and even, at times, our economic, social and political coherence. The need of the hour is to root out the causes behind the suppression of women’s rights so that they can play their role in the progress and development of the country.

We have to realise that women’s issues are for and about women. Complete, absolute and comprehensive freedom should be given to both women and men equally. The hypocrisy of the male gender must stop. We have to educate our children, our neighbours, our teachers and colleagues. We have to enlighten them. Let the common man know that he no longer has any control whatsoever over women. That a woman is free to do what she wants, say what she wants, dress the way she wants and talk to whomever she wants. Will is required to root out the problems of women so that they can play a progressive role in development. There is no denying the reality that women’s empowerment is a key phenomenon in bringing about sustainable socio-economic progress. This forward-looking approach has and is helping societies benefit from the active participation of women from every walk of life.

It is not as if nothing is being done in Pakistan with regard to women’s empowerment but whatever is being done is clearly not enough. Most women in the country, especially in rural areas, are being deprived of basic human rights. It is not only the duty of the government or NGOs to safeguard women’s rights. It is the duty of every citizen of Pakistan to ensure that their rights are protected. The women of Pakistan have to stand for their rights like Sughra Solangi and many others have. 

The writer is a social and political activist based in Lahore and he can be reached at [email protected]